“I assumed that if the surface looked good, then it must be good. But an outside-in perspective is rarely as accurate as a view from the inside-out.”
Imagine for a moment that you are sitting on the shoreline of the most magnificent beach; the sand is white and brilliant, and the waters are as clear blue as the sky. Now imagine if you never were allowed even to place your foot into the water. Imagine that all we ever could do was look upon these intriguing waters, but we never were able to know what lies beneath. What if the ocean were merely a mystery—; a vast ocean of secrecy that you were never able to discover? Everything that lies below the surface was off limits to you—; no seashells, no blow-fish, clams, starfish, or sunken ships with treasure—, none of it. You were completely cut off from the deep.
Now do me a favor, if you will, and imagine that the shoreline represents everything about you visible to the outside world, and the ocean represents the core of who you are—, the very depth of your soul. What if the only thing that ever could be known about you by yourself and others was merely the physical, the obvious, and the part of you that you make known to the world around you? Suppose the very core of who you are was kept hidden, not only from others, but also from yourself.? Why? All because you were afraid of what might happen if you really looked below the surface, afraid of what others might think of you and what you might think of yourself.
I wrote a book called SHALLOW because as sad as it is to admit I have lived the majority of my life on the surface. I’ve lived in shallow places, content to deal with only surface-level issues in my friendships, body, faith, and marriage—all of which I individually discuss throughout the book. When you spend your focus and energy polishing the surface of your life, you may find it easy to convince yourself that all is well. I assumed that if the surface looked good, then it must be good. But an outside-in perspective is rarely as accurate as a view from the inside-out. This is a view that, all too often, is left unseen because we don’t think it matters all that much.
What mattered to me were the things that could be seen, perceived, and assumed based on the shallow shoreline of my life. Perception became my reality. It was the idol that ultimately led to imprisonment of my soul. The way I perceived myself, along with my perception of how others viewed me, became my measuring stick for success: If you think I am kind, then I must be kind. If you think I am pretty, then I must be pretty. If you believe my life looks like the picture-perfect all-American family, then that is what we must be. But one of the dangers of that path rests in what happens when others don’t think those things of me: What if, through your senses, you perceive something very different about me? What if you believe me to be selfish and self-seeking? What if you think I am fake? What if you believe me to be shallow?
I gave the world complete access to define who I was. When their definition did not match up with the person I was portraying myself to be, all my efforts were thrust into changing that one thing, whatever it was at the time: “Just be more spiritual, funnier, the life of the party, meek, more stylish”—you get the idea. I believed the lie, “Be who they want you to be.”
Mark Sayers nails this idea perfectly in his book The Vertical Self:
Welcome to the twenty-first century, where we
can now purchase and change personalities
the way we can clothes, depending on mood
or circumstance. Welcome to the world in which
we are told we can be anyone we want to be,
where identity is no longer based in a sense
of self but rather in the imagery we choose at any particular moment.
My circumstance (aka, how the community around me perceived me) is what dictated the person I ascribed to be at that moment.
Does this sound familiar to anyone else? Or maybe, as you read, you are thinking, I am well aware of what this looks like because this is my life. I am tossed continuously to and fro, bending and shaping who I believe I should be based upon the opinions of others. And not only their opinions of me, but my perception of their lives from the outside looking in. Contemplate this question: What is the driving force behind the majority of your decisions? Are you shape-shifting your way through life to impress people? Do you constantly redefine yourself in an attempt to be accepted or relevant in today’s ever-changing culture?
When I so desperately sought the approval of other people, it led me to live a life of chaos. I was literally like an infant being tossed around in a violent thunderstorm—or probably more like a hurricane. This way of living sent me down a path of destruction, thrown every which way in an attempt to “arrive” at Destination: “They Love Me” and trying to “be” whatever was required at that moment to be accepted. But God is graciously and patiently beginning to teach me that you can “be” a lot of things and never “become” anyone. He is teaching me that you can “be” a friend and never taste what is meant by friendship. You can “be” loving and yet never truly experience the intimacy of love. Giving the world an à la carte version of yourself will not lead to life. Instead, it will leave you with an unquenchable thirst for more, with your head on a perpetual swivel. In other words, perception is not necessarily reality.
Leaving the shallow end is always a little uncomfortable. As our toes stretch to no longer feel the ground beneath us, we’ll have to fight the urge to turn back. If you choose to read my book, it may get tough. You will likely discover wounds buried deep within you, and maybe you’re not quite ready to expose them. If that’s true, it’s okay, because God’s timing will always prevail. He will lead you back to those challenging places when you’re ready.
Allowing God into the deepest hidden parts of you does not mean that you have to let the world in as well. That part will come later. And when it happens, you’ll be astonished at the workings of the Lord because you will find yourself opening up to people about situations in your life that today, in this very moment, you could never imagine sharing with another soul.
WARNING: THIS BOOK IS RAW. It was not comfortable to write and was not easy for me to share my flaws. And trust me when I express that it doesn’t feel good to share my raw, vulnerable, jealous, vain, shallow heart. We so often correlate “easy” with “right.” In other words, if something feels good, then it must be good, and if something doesn’t feel right, then it must be bad. This is a flawed way of thinking and, quite frankly, a tactic that Satan deploys to keep us in a state of merely existing—a life that moves at a consistent pace, following the rules of society, with no challenge to the soul or desire for growth. And that, my friends, should be the thing we fear – a life lived in the shallow end. A life that simply goes through the motions because we are afraid to leave the safety of the seashore.
Do you want to keep living this way? Do you want to remain above ground, devoting all your days to merely polishing the surface of your life? Will you pause to consider the mysteries of what life could look like if you allow God into all of the invisible places?
How you perceive yourself and how others perceive you is of little importance to reality. Perception is not reality. Reality is not what you decide or feel it to be. Reality is not the life you create while running from your past, and it will never be found in a three-step formula. Reality is reality, and the only way to experience it fully is to seek refuge in the only One who can fully see us. He sees us from the inside out, from beginning to end, our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows.
Choose to live in reality with me as I unveil patterns and fears that were displayed in my own life. Time and time again, I came broken before a Father who really knows me, and time and time again, He wholeheartedly loved me. Although this book is about my journey out of the shallow places, I would love to simultaneously be a part of God doing a work in you. Let’s grow and change together. Now, take off your floaties, get over your fear of being in a swimsuit (that is so shallow), and dive in deep.
Jill Dasher is a blogger and speaker who is passionate about sharing the message of being known through authentic community with God and each other. She resides in Asheville, NC with her husband Zach and four children. In between sunset hikes and camping weekends she works alongside her husband running a media company. Follow Jill on Instagram @jilldasher